Are We Ready For “Red Hook Summer”?

January 19, 2012  |  

by Charing Ball

Spike Lee has a new film, Red Hook Summer, premiering at the Sundance Movie Festival, which runs through January 29th. Lee told the New York Times that “it had been too long since I’d done a film, and I couldn’t wait on Hollywood anymore.Too many meetings, too many false starts, too many stuck projects.”

In the same article, Lee revealed that he didn’t bother taking the film to any of the major studios and had opted to financed his latest project on his own, much for the same reason as George Lucas. Likewise he is hoping to walk away from the festival with a distributor. Will Spike and Red Hook Summer get as much of a push when – and if – the film is released later this year? Will folks flood my Facebook timeline with the same urgency to see this film because Lee invested his own money? Will folks debate endlessly about the future of Black cinema if Red Hook Summer bombs at the box office? Probably not. That’s the point that I was making earlier this week in regards to Red Tails. This mad dash to “show Hollywood” that we could be good consumers has  dulled the conversation on why we haven’t been out here supporting independent Black cinema.

But let’s not rehash that debate again. Instead I am more curious if we as a country are emotionally ready for a film, which has Lee reprising his role as Mookie and is said to be a sort of follow up to “Do the Right Thing?

There are no clips or a trailer for the new Spike Lee Joint as Lee wants to keep this one under wraps.  However, published reports suggest that this film chronicles the gentrification of Brooklyn New York. And according to the synopsis of the story, which had been co-penned by Lee and James McBride (Miracle at St. Anna):

“When his mom deposits him at the Red Hook housing project in Brooklyn to spend the summer with the grandfather he’s never met, young Flik may as well have landed on Mars. Fresh from his cushy life in Atlanta, he’s bored and friendless, and his strict grandfather, Enoch, a firebrand preacher, is bent on getting him to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Only Chazz, the feisty girl from church, provides a diversion from the drudgery. As hot summer simmers and Sunday mornings brim with Enoch’s operatic sermons, things turn anything but dull as people’s conflicting agendas collide. Playfully ironic, heightened, yet grounded, Spike Lee’s bold new movie returns him to his roots, where lovable, larger-than-life characters form the tinderbox of a tight-knit community. A story about the coexistence of altruism and corruption, Red Hook Summer toys with expectations, seducing us with the promise of moral and spiritual transcendence.”

It has been 23 years since Lee’s groundbreaking film, Do the Right Thing, aggressively illustrated the very real realities of a racially and ethnically divided America. It was the film that garnered Lee the label of Angry Black filmmaker.  In the film, Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, N.Y would act as a microcosm of America in which a mix of African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Italian-Americans and Koreans lived and worked and sometimes played together.  I hadn’t watched Do the Right Thing in over a decade, but I remember it being both groundbreaking and inflammatory.

From the first few scenes of Rosie Perez feverishly dancing over Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” to the scene in which Radio Raheem, a towering young Black man with Love and Hate tattooed on each hand, gets choked out by the police for refusing to turn down his ghetto blaster at request of Sal, the Italian American pizza shop owner to the powerful final scene when  Mookie throws a trash can into Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, the entire film served as reminder that despite our best efforts to co-exist peacefully together, there lingers inevitable chaos. A chaos that has resulted from our inability to deal with and address issues around race and power.

No better landscape in the flick illustrates that more than the scene where five characters, all belonging to different racial and ethnic groups, turn directly to the camera and furiously spout off a laundry list of racial slurs, stereotypes and generalizations, ultimately leaving us, the viewers, wondering what just hit them and yet scratching our heads, wondering about if the stereotypes are exceedingly untrue than why do we still hold on to them?

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